DAY 13 – SUNDAY, JULY 21

AITKIN TO CROSBY (CUYUNA)

Day 13 is now long passed, it seems. Tom and I have gotten a bit back logged in our reports out with several very busy days keeping us from our computers. However, finally taking a moment now, on the 17th day of our journey as I sit on the back dining porch of a mansion in Little Falls, Minnesota, I can remember the morning of Day 13 in Aitkin… I woke up early to the breaking light of day coming through the trees and the fine mesh of our tent in the Aitkin County, Minnesota Campground. A mourning dove was singing, like a rustling clarinet, with a one, one-two-three, one, one rhythm in its song. I turned my face to the side to look out on the grounds, and without my glasses on, what seemed like an oversized mosquito was perched on just opposite me, the tent my only shield from the blood-sucking beast! Our riverside lodgings have been varied—tent, trailer camper, mansion—but each day there’s a rhythm to our rising and we soon get on the road, on foot, heading to our next community.

On Day 13, that next community was Crosby, Minnesota, or so we soon learned, Cuyuna Lakes—a more regional term that envelops the land by the river and all that touched and formed by the mines previously in the area. Tom’s run was speedy, and then I set out on bike for a relatively calm 12.7 miles until a wave of traffic set in on the last two miles or so. Tom was there for the exchange, and I was still in one piece, so I hopped off the bike and transitioned to running gear, setting out for another 5K to the finish at Serpent Lake. My legs felt like they were under water at first, and then I realized I was running uphill. After several days of flats, this was a change, and we later learned that mounds of earth were piled up creating this landscape due to the iron ore mines cultivated in the area in another era.

As I ran through the neighborhoods closing in on the park, the dogs were barking at me. I picked up my pace and reached the Serpent statue at the park in record time. Before we moved on to connect with the local voices of Cuyuna Lakes, we paused there at the park to spend some time with Britta and James from MPR News. They interviewed us about the project for a while—recording and photographing us while we were of course documenting them with our cameras as well! This meta-documentation continued as we moved on to interact with Abby Smith a local librarian in Crosby, and the MPR folks shadowed us while we shadowed Abby! 

Our time with Abby continued past the visit to the library, where not only was she the librarian today but her grandmother was the first librarian when It was established. She took us to meet her grandparents at the home she actually grew up in, and we also made it over to her parents home as well. This invitation into Abby’s family world made clear her reasons for returning home after having gone away to college.

From Abby’s house we went on to meet Liz Burns in Deerwood, Minnesota. She and I had spoke on the phone to plan our time together, and she said she’d be taking us to one of the most beautiful places—ever. She left it a bit of a mystery. Tom and I climbed in her SUV and she drove us out to the Milford Mine Memorial Park. Liz’s grandfather was one of the miners killed in the disaster where the lake filled in the mine where 41 miners lost their lives in 1924. The incredible beauty of this spot is overwhelming, as is the thinking that leads to taking history and embedding it in the landscape, in the resources people want to access.

This brilliant thinking was not, however, able to get rid of the deer flies buzzing about, and as Liz and I walked down the trail, we swatted and shook, doing what I now call the deer fly dance. Our time with Liz kept going, as she took us up to see the Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area, the mountain bike trails, and the uppermost view where you can see the whole valley of lakes and land. Liz is a traveler and hikes, bikes, and snow shoes in many other scenic settings, but she will always come home to Cuyuna.

You’d think this was a full day already, but we squeezed in a trip to the local brewery Cuyuna Brewing Company—one of several new developments in this small community that is bringing in hipsters to mix with the otherwise older, established population. Building the new mountain bike trails and recreation area out of the landscape shaped by the mining history has been quite the boon for Crosby and Cuyuna on the whole.

Liz lives just a couple houses down from another couple, Jill and Paul Mattson, who were actually our host couple for the evening. Liz, Abby, Jill, Paul, and two other local women Barb Grove (Mama Cuyuna) and Bailey Swensen all gathered at Jill’s house for an amazing dinner of Walleye, wild rice, cinnamon Lefse, salad, a crusty bread, and adult beverages! — not to mention continued conversation about the community, the river, and life in the region.